Monthly Archive for November, 2010

Zombocalypse Now

Zombocalypse Now (11/29/10) Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style Fiction (2009 ***1/2) Written by Matt Youngmark, with several illustrations by the author. You are a stuffed bunny on a blind date who finds himself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Your survival depends on the decisions you make. I learned about this book last year because it was featured on a self-published books blog. As I was planning a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure (CYOA) book of my own (which coincidentally includes a few zombies), I ordered a copy and I’ve had it sitting on my bookshelf for awhile. I was quite suprised by how well-written it was, especially considering it’s Youngmark’s first book. Tonally, it was pitch-perfect, and I hope it sells well enough that he writes further books in the same vein.

Introducing Sociology: A Graphic Guide

Introducing Sociology: A Graphic Guide (11/28/10) Nonfiction (2005 **) Written by Richard Osborne, illustrated by Boris Van Loon. The origins and history of sociology are explored. This book was originally printed in the U.K. in a different form in 1996. I never took Sociology in college and so I thought this book might provide a good overview of what I’d missed. Unfortunately, I was disappointed on that count. I found Osborne’s commentary to be more slanted (and snarky) than I thought was appropriate and the book devoted most of its pages to the historical development of sociology and whether or not it was even a science than providing the reader with a basic understanding of its principles.

Introducing Time: A Graphic Guide

Introducing Time: A Graphic Guide (11/27/10) Nonfiction illustrated (2010 ***) Written by Craig Callender, illustrated by Ralph Edney. What is time? How can it be measured? How subjective is it? If time travel were possible, how might it be achieved? These questions and more are explored in this overview on the subject. It’s a challenge to present potentially dry factual information in an entertaining fashion, and this book did a decent job of striking a balance.

90 Classic Books for People in a Hurry

90 Classic Books for People in a Hurry (11/26/10) Cartoons (2009 ***1/4) Written and illustrated by Henrik Lange. Who could pass up the opportunity to read 90 important literary works in one sitting? I sure as hell couldn’t, and so when I saw this book in an LAX airport bookstore I had to pick it up. As I sat reading it, waiting for our flight, it made me madder and madder. Why? Because the concept was so simple and the execution was so straightforward. In short, it’s a book I should’ve thought of and produced myself. The “synopsis” of each book was given as a two-page spread. On the left was a title of the book. On the right was a four-panel cartoon, the first panel of which was devoted, somewhat redundantly, to the title. The minimalist plot summaries were delivered in an extremely sardonic manner, and though a lot of them missed the mark, several of them made me laugh out loud.

The Lady From Shanghai

The Lady From Shanghai (11/20/10) TV-TCM (1947 **1/2) Directed by Orson Welles, based on the novel by Sherwood King, starring Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles and Everett Sloane. A nihilistic (and dumb) sailor-for-hire falls for a fatalistic (and rich) dame and gets himself framed for murder. For a movie with as many twists and double-crosses as this one, you’d think it would have been more satisfying. Welles wasn’t quite believable physically as the tough sailor with a shady past he was playing. In addition, his (uncredited and) uneven direction wasn’t quite on par with Citizen Kane.

Hamlet (No Fear Shakespeare Graphic Novels)

Hamlet (No Fear Shakespeare Graphic Novels) (11/20/10) Graphic Novel (2008 ***1/4) Written by William Shakespeare, illustrated by Neil Babra. The prince of Denmark is driven mad by a potent mixture of fratricide and incest. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I’d never gotten around to reading or watching Hamlet before reading it in comic book form. Man, that Shakespeare dude could be pretty dark and racy. Babra’s stylized illustration style was perfectly-suited to this very twisted tale. I was unfamiliar with the No Fear Shakespeare series before now, and from what I can tell, the concept is to edit Shakespeare’s works into a form more accessible by contemporary teenagers. I’m sure there are many who would raise their fists in indignation, butI actually think it’s a pretty good idea, and I may find myself ordering other books in the series.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

I Wanna Hold Your Hand (11/18/10) Netflix (1978 **1/2) Directed by Bob Zemeckis, written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale, starring Nancy Allen, Bobi Di Cicco, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber and Eddie Deezen. A group of New Jersey teens drive to Manhattan to see The Beatles in their first appearance in America on The Ed Sullivan Show. The most interesting thing to me was that this was written by the team who would go on to write Back to the Future seven or eight years later. There’s also a very close relationship between this film and the Spielberg-directed 1941 the following year. It’s fascinating to me that both those films had reasonably well-constructed narratives, and yet they didn’t work. I think the lesson Zemeckis and Gale learned was that plot-driven chaotic ensemble films were problematic. Fortunately they learned their lesson and learned to focus on a few characters, giving us Marty McFly and Doc Brown.

Almost Famous

Almost Famous (11/16/10) DVD (2000 ****) Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, starring Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, Jason Lee, Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand. A 15-year-old rock journalist hits the road with a mid-level rock band. Won Oscar for best original screenplay. This is one of my favorite films and is high on the list of films I wish I’d made. My belief is that part of what makes a film truly memorable is the element of wish fulfillment, and boy oh boy did Almost Famous deliver that in spades. It’s even more remarkable that the film is somewhat autobiographical, that Cameron Crowe actually was an under-aged writer for Rolling Stone. On top of all that, Frances McDormand’s performance as young William Miller’s mother was hilarious and endearing while retaining an element of truth. (Favorite)

Baby Mama

Baby Mama (11/15/10) Netflix (2008 **1/2) Written and directed by Michael McCullers, starring Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear and Steve Martin in a cameo role. An infertile 37-year-old professional woman hires a surrogate to carry her baby. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this film, and I liked everyone who was in it, but Baby Mama was pretty tame and predictable and it never quite took off for me. I think it wanted to be something it wasn’t and only ended up seeming like James L. Brooks lite.

Beyond Palomar

Beyond Palomar (11/14/10) Graphic Novel (2007 ***) Written and illustrated by Gilbert Hernandez. This volume contains two very different stories: Poison River and Love and Rockets X. The first sixty or so pages of this book were stunning and powerful, and for me it represented a shining example of what can be accomplished in graphic novels. Unfortunately, Hernandez’ tendency for fragmented and soap-opera-like storytelling began to take over, and the narrative began to become defused and sometimes confusing.